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Gay, transgender groups demand to be included in immigration reform

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WASHINGTON – While other protesters continued to rally outside the White House for immigration reform Wednesday, members of gay and immigrant groups had their own message for President Barack Obama: Don’t forget about us.

“I want my voice to be heard,” said Mario Hernandez, a Phoenix resident with United We Dream, who joined members of other groups in the Capitol urging Obama to include protections for them in any executive action on undocumented immigrants.

The meeting came the same day that the White House announced that Obama would unveil a plan for executive action to will fix an immigration system that “has been broken for decades.”

The president has threatened for months to take action on his own if Congress failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform, first promising to act by the end of the summer then delaying action until after the elections.

In a videotaped statement Wednesday, he said it was time to act because “Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long.” Even as he announced those plans, however, the president renewed his call on Republicans in Congress to “pass a long-term solution to immigration reform.”

That plan will be unveiled in a Thursday night speech from the White House, with details being released Friday during a speech at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. It was there in 2013 that Obama laid out principles for immigration reform that called for more border security, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already here illegally and a streamlined process for legal immigration.

Hernandez was a beneficiary of one action already taken by Obama, the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That program protects immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children, deferring their deportation for at least two years and allowing them to apply for work permits.

Hernandez was 3 when his family brought him to this country. They lived in Arizona until 2010 when his family fled the state in the face of get-tough immigration legislation like SB 1070.

Hernandez stayed behind, but said that “coming out queer was a lot easier than coming out as an immigrant” during that time.

He was in Washington with United We Dream, along with GetEQUAL and the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, which met with congressional representatives to discuss hurdles faced by undocumented immigrants who are also gay.

About a dozen advocates – including Karolina Lopez, a transgendered woman from Tucson who is seeking asylum in the U.S. – said the president’s actions need to address their concerns.

Among those concerns were issues laid out in August by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other advocacy groups, which were not at Wednesday’s event. In a letter to Obama, MALDEF said reports that executive action might be targeted to immigrants with family living legally in the U.S. could pose a problem for same-sex couples whose marriages may not be recognized in the state where they live.

That letter also demanded, “the elimination of solitary confinement and greater protections for LGBTQ individuals in detention” for immigration infractions.

Hernandez echoed the call to protect detained individuals. He said that while he has been protected since 2012 by DACA, there is still a long way to go to protect other gay undocumented immigrants in this country.

“You can’t really be yourself until you come out as your whole self,” Hernandez said.